Chart-topper James Bay will be patron of a Sunderland culture hub as it breathes new life into a once derelict historic building.
The Echo can reveal that the singer songwriter, who shot to fame with hits such as Hold Back the River, has thrown his weight behind Pop Recs as it expands into larger premises in High Street West.
It’s not the first time the singer has supported the multi-purpose record shop, coffee shop, gig and arts space. In 2015 he played to a packed house at its original site in Fawcett Street and spoke passionately about Pop Rec’s drive to bring more culture to the heart of the city.
Now the Brit Award-winner, who is touring the UK with second album Electric Light, will be patron of Pop Recs on the back of its move from its current base in Stockton Road to empty Grade II-listed buildings in High Street West, which were once the site of the original Binns department store.
The site, opposite Arabesque restaurant, is being repaired and Pop Recs has been given a £15,000 Arts Council England (ACE) National Lottery
project grant which, working in partnership with Sunderland Culture, Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust (TWBPT) and the Heritage Action Zone, will enable them to move into the building. The buildings sit within the city’s Heritage Action Zone, and were gifted by Sunderland City Council to TWBPT who have begun the restoration thanks to a grant from Historic England.
Pop Recs will move into the repaired buildings in the summer, while maintaining their current premises on Stockton Road in the meantime.
Dave Harper, of Pop Recs and drummer for Frankie & the Heartstrings, said: “James has been amazingly supportive of Pop Recs. We got to know him through his tour manager who we know, and when he came up to sing for us in Fawcett Street he said he would do what he could to support us.
“A lot of people have said that to us, but it’s a testament to James that he has continued to support us and been pivotal in our development. We’re delighted that he has agreed to be our patron and we really appreciate his enthusiasm and backing. He’s coming to Sunderland to visit the new premises and I’m hoping he’ll come back to open them when we’re fully ready. We’re looking forward to having a bigger venue, where we can make a bigger difference for the people of Sunderland and in particular, the people of the East End.”
Rebecca Ball, creative director for Sunderland Culture said: “Pop Recs has quickly established itself as an important and ground-breaking venue for Sunderland’s music scene. We’re thrilled to be working with them.
“Existing support from HLF and this new investment from ACE will enable Pop Recs to launch an exciting programme of cultural events during the Tall Ships visit to the city.
“The development of Pop Recs’ new home is an important part of the ambitious Twenty Four Seven cultural vision for the city, which is the legacy plan from
Sunderland’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021.”
Martin Hulse, trust manager for TWBPT said: “The council invited us to try and rescue the buildings three years ago, and I did a lot of research with the local community about what sort of development they wanted to see. We had a very clear steer that they wanted a cultural project and not housing.
“I met with Rebecca from Sunderland Culture who then introduced me to Pop Recs, and it’s all gone from there. It’s a fabulous project with so much opportunity, and the council, Historic England and other partners have been fantastic to work with.
“Although we’ve been working with Pop Recs for a year or so, they hadn’t actually seen inside the building until a couple of months ago – that was a very special moment, a moment that made all the hard work so far worthwhile.
“Pop Recs will take one of the buildings rent free for three years while we work on restoring the other two buildings. Then the hope is they’ll transfer over into the other buildings,” added Martin.